during a feeding frenzy when they're willing to eat just about anything,
fish must be outsmarted to be caught. When they aren't biting, an
angler has to offer something that will tempt a fish-even when it's
not particularly hungry-to chomp down on a morsel that just looks
too good to pass up.
Beyond that skill, a fisherman occasionally must think fast to keep
himself out of trouble.
In her self-published 1961 book, "Tales Too Interesting to Forget,"
Willie Stockton Whisenhunt, then a teacher in Killeen,
told a fishing story about the one who got away. In this case, the
one who got away was the teller of the tale, not a big fish. Whisenhunt
said she had heard the story from an acquaintance who once supported
himself as an itinerant cotton picker.
Every season, when cotton growers needed to get their crops in, the
Central Texas man left his community in search of work in the fields.
One year, traveling in a tarp-covered wagon, the man stopped for a
mid-day break. His team was hot and tired and so was he. The place
he'd picked was adjacent to a small body of water. Whisenhunt didn't
say whether it was a creek or a stock tank.
Not only was the itinerant laborer worn out after a hard morning's
travel, he was hungry. Unfortunately, times being hard, he didn't
have anything to eat. Pondering that dilemma as his stomach growled,
it dawned on him that the nearby water hole likely had fish in it.
He enjoyed fishing and always had a hook and line in his camping gear.
He cut a willow sapling for a pole and then set out looking for bait.
First, he caught several grasshoppers and then succeeded in knocking
a wasp nest out of a tree without getting bitten. From it, he would
extract larva with which to offer the fish a second menu item.
About that time, he noticed a sign on which only two words had been
painted: "NO FISHING." With all due respect to Texas property owner
rights, the man was hungry. Seeing no houses in the vicinity, he opted
to proceed with his efforts to catch his lunch. Who would miss a stringer
Happily, he soon discovered the fish were as starved as he was. Pretty
soon he had landed a mess of fish. Whether they were perch, catfish
or bass Ms. Whisenhunt did not relate, but whatever the species, with
the right amount of salt and cornmeal he knew they'd fry just fine.
Just as he began heading back to his wagon to start a cook fire, he
saw a woman loping down a hill in his direction. She did not look
happy. Thinking fast, he came up with a plan.
When the woman lit into him for trespassing, using decidedly unladylike
language to make her point, the cotton picker just smiled and said
nothing. Instead, he pointed to his mouth and ears and shook his head
sadly. Indeed, it clearly pained him that he could not understand
what she was saying.
The landowner's tirade continued for a while until it finally soaked
in on her that the trespasser was both deaf and mute. Then she tried
gesturing, but the man pretended at first not to understand.
Finally appearing to realize the nature of his transgression, the
man pointed to his catch and silently made it evident that he would
be pleased to give her the fish. When she shook her head no, he tried
to hand her his pole so she could catch her own fish. She also rejected
that amiable act.
Exasperated, the woman gave up and stormed off.
Meanwhile, the man cleaned his fish, washed the meat in the water
and cooked his lunch. With a full stomach and a clear conscience,
he broke camp and resumed his journey.